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Last week, our instructor ended yoga with a quote that really grabbed my attention. It wasn’t that she ended the session with a quote. That’s something she always does. This one, from Martin Luther, was just especially appropriate.
“You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
Some people say that Luther was talking about jealousy and envy. Others broaden the meaning to any negative thought. Me? It’s another way of thinking about the negative thoughts that fly into my monkey mind.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m relaxing at the end of yoga, listening to the sermon, knitting, or trying to center myself in prayer. My monkey mind is everywhere. It darts over here and remembers what I need to pick up at the store. It skips over there and remembers something I forgot to do.
Most often the things it flits toward are the negatives, the things that I’m trying not to let consume me. Today, as you read this, my son and a friend are swimming 2.4 miles to support research into cancer cures. It is a lake swim through open water. They’re going to be with college and Olympic swimmers but I’m a mom. I worry. Then there’s my upcoming dermatologist appointment. What is this weirdo spot anyway? Is it the Big C? What happens if this latest candidate for choir director doesn’t pan out? And what the heck did Rick mean by that nasty comment anyway?
Yep, the nasties sure can flood in but it’s my decision whether or not they get a place to stay. It is all too easy to focus on those negatives. It is also easy to chastise ourselves for these thoughts. Or I can make a choice. I can do what we learned in yoga. Yes, your mind will wander. Yes, even negative things will pop into your head. When it happens, don’t judge. Just gently brush them aside. In yoga, we return to our focus on our breathing.
Actually, that’s not a bad place to focus in general. Breathe out the negative, breathe in and think about God’s love for us. Breathe out the anger, pull in some of God’s peace. Breathe out the worry, and breathe into God’s comforting presence.
The birds will fly over, but I don’t have to help them build a nest.
This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.
Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.
Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?
The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:
Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
I have some strange attitudes about how I spend my money. I prefer to support companies whose values are comparable to my own. This doesn’t mean that I look for companies that purport to be Christian. Too often the leadership within these companies waves the Bible around while treating one group of people or another like trash.
Instead, I look for companies that take care of the planet as well as my fellow human beings. One of these companies is Darn Good Yarn. They not only reduce the trash going into landfills but have also created jobs for women in India and Nepal.
The funny thing? I first looked into this company because I knit and crochet but I still haven’t placed my first yarn order. Nope, I ordered a set of sari silk wrap skirts.
The skirts are made out of sari silk fabric remnants. Examine a skirt closely and you can see how pieces of fabric were sewn together to make a piece long enough for a skirt. As I wrap and tie and straighten, I imagine the woman who stitched it together. Her work at one of the cooperatives that supplies these skirts allows her to support herself and her family. Using sari remnants means that these glorious pieces of fabric stay out of the landfill.
The company also sells ribbon yarn cut from sari fabric as well as natural yarns hand-made in small batches. The yarns are created by women in Nepal and India. I haven’t decided yet what to buy. I may end up joining the monthly yarn club. Until then, whenever I drape myself in one of their skirts, I say a little prayer for the women who created it as well as those who are helping them support their families.
PS. If you shop with a company that helps people or the planet, recommend it in the comments so we can all support them.
Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements
So I was in the kitchen washing dishes yesterday, when, for reasons unknown to me now, I started to think of a time years ago when I made mistakes as a mother, and it left me feeling sad.
How could I do that? I asked myself. Before long, I was in tears, still scrubbing away at plates.
At just that moment, I noticed some marks on the wall where the trash bins used to be kept. There were little flecks of debris that I’d never noticed, as this wall was behind a door we always kept open.
The garbage can was gone from that spot. All that was left was the residue.
Just as the things I was beating myself up about were well in the past, and all that was left was the regret.
It isn’t here anymore, I said to myself, wiping down the wall. It’s been removed.
Odd as it may seem, I felt that God was speaking to me through the grungy grime!
The things we can’t forgive ourselves for are echoes from a bygone era. If we’ve truly changed our ways and have brought it to God in prayer, the only thing left to do is release it. Not forgiving yourself is like saying God doesn’t know best. If he’s forgiven you, there’s nothing left to forgive. It doesn’t exist anymore.
When I was done with the dishes, I realized that I felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. As I cleaned in the kitchen, my conscience had cleared. I did my best at the time, I reminded myself, and I’ve learned to do better over the years.
Well. Laundry is next on my to-do list. I wonder what life-lesson I’ll learn from fluffing and folding?
Over the weekend, I took a deep breath and suddenly was in so much pain, I doubled over. The doctor on call said it was something called “pleurisy” and told me to go to the ER.
My son drove me to the hospital, and, on the way, I mulled over what this mystery condition was all about. Could it be the plural version of leprosy?!? Something that sounds like a fancy French dish can’t be a big deal!
Two stern-faced nurses, one male and one female, started to disrobe me and put electrodes on my chest for the EKG. At least buy me dinner first! I thought.
They put an oxygen tube over my nose, started an IV line, drew blood and wheeled me in for a chest x-ray.
Finally, one of the nurses smiled. “Love your cat socks,” she said. Another one laughed and said, “How great!” and pointed to her jacket, which had a pawprint design on it.
Another nurse, Marielle, asked what I did for a living, and it almost occurred to me to say I’m a professional patient of late, but told her about my writing gigs.
Her parents only spoke Tonga at home, she told me, but she really tries to speak English like a native. Her “friends” corrected her all the time, and she said that she sometimes confused “was” and “were.”
I was impressed with her because she worked in the ICU of another hospital in our town on weekdays, and at this hospital’s ER on the weekends. She’s already achieved so much, but what makes her feel less accomplished is her grasp of the language.
The nurses focused on my cute cat socks, even though all the while I was thinking, I look and feel like forty miles of bad road. They didn’t see what I saw.
Marielle focused on her perceived language issues, even though all the while I was thinking, she’s young to have accomplished so much in her career. She didn’t see what I saw.
When I got home that night, I prayed for all the nurses who had taken care of me, and that we could all see each other through God’s eyes, healing each other with kindness.